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Stars: James DÂ’Arcy, Noel Clarke, Frank Harper, Kate Magowan, Jamie Foreman, Doug Allen, Ray Panthaki, Andrew Shim, David Hayman, Cal Macaninch, Heather Pearce, Martin Hancock, Tony Jawardena, Joseph Gilgun, Everal Walsh

Director: Reg Traviss

Disregard the tsunami of four-letter words and you have a hardened-for-our-times revamp of the classic prison melodramas so beloved of Warner Brothers in the 1930s and 1940s with added graphic violence and predominantly dislikeable characters. Ronnie Thompson (also doubling as producer) and Colin Butts adapted the formerÂ’s semi-autobiographical book about the trials and tribulations of a British prison officer for the screen, providing DÂ’Arcy with a role far removed from the rather more elegant characters he played in films like Master and Commander. Here (like Toby Kebbell in The Veteran), DÂ’Arcy has returned from military service in Iraq suffering from traumatic flashbacks to the horrors of the war.

Forced to take a job as a prison officer, DÂ’Arcy rapidly bonds with his fellow screws and, his idealism shattered on his first day of duty, is soon drinking and taking drugs as an anaesthetic against the hellish environment in which he finds himself, rapidly alienating himself from his family until a riot reveals the screws may be as corrupt as the criminals they guardÂ…

While genre clichés abound and the climactic revelation may not come as a complete surprise to everyone, Traviss’s to-the-point-direction tells the story effectively without attempting redundant auteuristic tricks, well aided and abetted by D’Arcy’s powerful central performance and strong contributions from Clarke, Harper and (almost inevitably for a British crime film) Foreman, with Bryan Loftus’ gritty, often-verging-on-monochrome cinematography adding atmosphere.

A feeling of déjà vu hangs over the film but, that said, it still works well enough on its own terms.

Alan Frank

UK 2011. UK Distributor: Lionsgate UK. Colour.
110 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 18.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 3, Swearing 3.

Review date: 30 May 2011